Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 22, 2012.  Chaso and violence continue, the Committee to Protect Journalists releases a new report which ranks Iraq the third worst country in the world for journalists, the oil in the ground in Iraq needs to be extracted if Nouri's going to amass money, the US federal government sues Cindy Sheehan and more.
Arab News Blog provides this context for the 'progress' claims on Iraq, "One in six Iraqis live in poverty. This is in a nation with the second highest oil reserves in the world and a budget surplus of more than fifty billion US dollars in 2011. According to Transparency International, Iraq has one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Some of the wealth stays inside the country and is spread among the beneficiaries and clients of the new political elite. Much of it, however, is transferred outside and translated into real estate or other assets, or is often hard to trace. Not a year has passed without plunder in Iraq."
And of course, 2012 is the current year and yet, as Aswat al-Iraq notes, the government of Iraq is still at work on coming up with a 2012 budget. The 'good' news in 'free' Iraq never ends, Al Mada reports the judiciary and the Ministry of the Interior have charges against and plans to arrest several members of Parliament. Nothing says stability like being a dangerous place for reporting failure to come up with a budget for a year already underway and arresting elected officials, right?
February 12th,  Ben Lando and Ali Abu Iraq (Iraq Oil Report) noted that Nouri tried to stage a photo-op  at the floating port with assistants handing out flowers and flags right before the cameras started clicking. Let's hope it made for some pretty pictures.  Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) reports that the opening of the port has yet again been delayed with "bad weather" being given as the reason with one unidentified source stating, "Rough weather made it impossible for the crew to complete work at the floating terminal.  We had to halt work in the past days."
In other bad oil news for Nouri, Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) notes the country's crude oil exports for the month of January decreased by 1.8%.
Meanwhile in the KRG, April Yee (The National Newspaper) reports, "Kurdistan's welcoming of foreign partners has raised tensions between the semi-autonomous region's seat of power in Erbil and Baghdad. This month, the Iraqi oil ministry warned Total against signing any agreements with Kurdistan and barred ExxonMobil from a forthcoming auction of exploration licenses." A lot of Iraqi politicians made a lot of noise last week but the Ministry of Oil was forced to clamp down on those threats.  Monday, the Kurdish Globe translates a statement Mutasam Akram, Deputy Minister of Oil, issued which includes:

According to the Iraqi constitution, the oil and all the natural resources that exist in Iraq are national wealth that belongs to all Iraqi people, living in all of the regions and provinces of Iraq. This wealth should be used to increase the well-being and prosperity of all the people of Iraq. Therefore, such agreements should be a joint effort between everyone in Iraq and no individual group should single-handedly decide on how these resources are used.

In our view, these statements, especially those that threaten renowned international investment companies working in the Kurdistan Region, could lead to companies being reluctant to work in all of Iraq, and they will portray a negative image to investors across all sectors. This contradicts the general policies of economic openness, the promotion of trade and attracting foreign direct investment in order to provide better services to the people of Iraq, who have suffered for decades from closed centralized economic policies that have led to widespread poverty, destitution and deprivation.

In addition, such statements lead to increased disputes between the political parties and to the accumulation of new problems at a time when we need to think and work together in order to solve the problems that already exist--especially as we are building up a new democracy, which is what all the political and national components of Iraq want.

Yes, all those threats didn't play well to international corporations thinking about doing business in Iraq. In addition, Hevidear Ahmed (Rudaw) interviewed Matasam Akram on this topic:

Rudaw: Signing some contracts between the Kurdistan Region and ExxonMobil, an oil giant, has angered Baghdad and the capital has asked the company to cancel its deals. Where does this issue stand at the moment?


Mutasam Akram: Inside Iraq's Ministry of Oil, no actual step has been taken against ExxonMobil and what we see is only in the media. ExxonMobil is the biggest oil company in the world and, if they wanted to work in some part of the world, they would think it over a hundred times before making a decision. When they sign a contract, they know well what the results will be. If ExxonMobil had known it would lose by signing a contract with the Kurdistan Region, it would not have done it. The same goes for the French Total that is also one of the biggest oil companies now in Kurdistan. Both companies enjoy heavy economic and political weight in the world and they wouldn't have come to Kurdistan had they known they would lose

Back in the days of the non-stop threats, ExxonMobil and Total both faced threats of not being able to bid in the upcoming auction.  Not much of a threat since most of the oil industry saw the offerings and the proposed contracts as "a dingo dog with fleas." Shwan Zulal (Niqash) pointed out earlier this month:
The fact that attracting international oil companies into Iraq will be an ongoing challenge is illustrated by the delay in the fourth round of bidding for oil contracts. The bidding was to take place in January but has been postponed until the end of May. The contract on offer is a sort of new, hybrid version of contract. Some have noted that the contract is something of a production sharing contract in disguise -- and the contract is disguised because of the general Iraqi public's belief that a production sharing contract is selling out their oil to foreign owners.
However for the oil companies themselves, if they are risking their money and going looking for oil, they find it difficult to quantify risks. Even if they did find oil, there's no guarantee that Iraq's infrastructure would be ready to help them begin pumping the oil out -- especially given Baghdad's poor past record for completing projects and building capacity. 
In conclusion then, Iraq has had grand plans for its own oil industry as well as ambitions for the power and influence that its oil could give it upon the world stage. However procrastination and misguided thinking about the oil industry's most chronic problems seem to have made these ambitions impossible.
Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) notes the oft postponed "auction is now scheduled for May 30-31" and quotes the head of Petrocluem Contracts and Licensing Directorate Sabah Abdul-Kadhim stating, "We have made major amendments to the initial contract, and all of them are positive and serve interests of foreign firms."  They had to do something because there's been little industry interest and while Iraq may be one of the top oil reserves in the world, with the violence and the ongoing political crisis, a failed auction in May could do a great deal to damage the country's international business standing across the board.   Daniel J. Graeber (Oil Price) notes that "Iraq gets in its own way" on the issue of oil and reminds:
The political circus in Iraq, however, suggests not much gets done in a country where oil can buy a lot of things, but does little to keep the lights on for most Iraqis.
Iraq, after a stormy 2010 parliamentary election, smashed the world record for the longest period between elections and the forming of a new government. Not exactly an accomplishment for a country that had democracy handed to them by the so-called standard bearer of participatory government. Baghdad politics have since been held together by the tiniest of threads, with various political factions storming out of the halls of government at various times for various reasons. Though the fight hasn't yet taken to the streets, the country's Shiite prime minister ordered his Sunni vice president arrested on terrorism charges.


Al Rafidayn notes the Supreme Judicial Council has decreed that they will begin their trial of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi in absentia on May 3rd. Nouri al-Maliki has accused al-Hashemi of terrorism and issued an arrest warrant for him. al-Hashemi is in the KRG and has maintained since December that he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad -- an assertion that was demonstrated to be true when a 9 member panel of judges held a press conference last Thursday and declared al-Hashemi guilty of terrorism before a trial had taken place and in violation of Article 19 of the Iraqi Constitution.

Al Mada reports on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announcement yesterday that most of Iraq's internal refugees do not feel that they can safely return to their homes. Aswat al-Iraq states UNHCR's Claire Bourgeois will give a press briefing on this topic Sunday. During 2006 and 2007, ethnic cleansing took place in Iraq.  Whole neighborhoods were overturned.  What was mixed became Shi'ite or Sunni, what was Sunni became Shi'ite, etc.  Many had to flee their family homes to stay alive.  Often they received a death threat prior to uprooting themselves. Iraq birthed the largest refugee crisis in the region since 1948.  Over 4 million Iraqis became refugees -- either internal or external.  Internal refugees moved to other neighborhoods.  Some internal refugees moved close to their old ones.  Some, like Christians who fled Iraq for northern Iraq, moved futher from their homes.  Regardless, the ration cards were issued in certain neighborhoods and moving -- even a short distance away -- tended to result in Iraqis not being able to receive their rations (staples like sugar, flour and milk).  External refugees largely fled to the surrounding countries.  Some were able to go on to other host countries after but Jordan, Syria and Lebanon housed a large number of the refugees and Jordan and Lebanon continue to (Syria most likely does but the current conflict has dispersed some Iraqis along with some Syrians). Though Christians made up a small percentage of the Iraqi total population, they make up a significant amount of external refugees.
Binsal Abdul Kader (Gulf News) reports on an Iraqi mechanical engineer, Ayad Zaki, who fled Iraq in 2006 for his own safety:
Zaki is also a victim of the situation in post-war Iraq. His family confirmed what Zaki had told Gulf News -- that it was not safe for him to go to Baghdad.
"Even I have not gone back home during the past six years, being afraid of abduction and other crimes," Zaki's son who is studying in a south east Asian nation, told Gulf News over the phone yesterday.
Zaki's wife said the same from Baghdad but said she was ready to come to the UAE to take care of Zaki if there is any way they get any support. A prominent company which came forward to help Zaki following the Gulf News report said it would look into the possibility of offering him a job.
From leaving Iraq to visiting, Al Sabaah reports the Pope is planning a visit to the city of Ur shortly.
Turning to the topic of violence, Reuters notes a Baquba bombing targeting a police officer's home which injured his wife and their child, a Mosul roadside bombing injured one person and 1 person was shot dead in Mosul. Al Rafidayn notes a death yesterday Reuters never did, Skvan Jamil Mohammed, a college professor who was shot dead outside his Dohuk home.  He was shot ten times by assailants in a car and he died en route to the hospital. The paper notes he was also active in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KRG President Massoud Barzani's party). Aswat al-Iraq reports a police officer's Falluja home was bombed today and his wife and their three children were left wounded.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a new report entitled "Attacks on the Press in 2011." The report notes that, since 1991, 151 journalists have been killed in Iraq and five are known to have been killed last year:

Hadi al-Mahdi, freelance

September 8, 2011, in Baghdad, Iraq

Alwan al-Ghorabi, Afaq

June 21, 2011, in Diwaniyya, Iraq

Sabah al-Bazi, Al-Arabiya

March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq

Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad, Al-Ayn

March 29, 2011, in Tikrit, Iraq

Mohamed al-Hamdani, Al-Itijah

February 24, 2011, in Ramadi, Iraq

The report ranks the top three most dangerous places for journalists in 2011 as:

1) Pakistan
2) Libya
3) Iraq
In what might be a bit of good news for Iraqi journalists, Mariwan F. Salihi (Gulf News) reports that construction is ongoing on the first phase of the Erbil Media City which will include "two high-rises, studios and other services needed for broadcasting" while the later three phases will see businesses (hotels, retail outlets, etc) come on board and when "the TV production and studio buildings open by the end of 2014, a large TV network will be established which will have separate news and entertainment channels broadcasting from Arbil Media City."
Moving over to the topic of education, Aamer Madhani (USA Today) reports that Iraqis officials are speaking with US counterparts in DC to discuss programs for Iraqi students studying in the US.  The US State Dept released the following statement today from the US-Iraq Joint Coordinating Committee for Cultural and Educational Cooperation:
The United States of America and the Republic of Iraq are committed to expanding and strengthening education and cultural cooperation. Pursuant to the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) between the United States and Iraq, the Joint Coordinating Committee for Cultural and Educational Cooperation met Monday, February 21, 2012 for the second time. The Committee last met in March 2011 in Baghdad. Since then, we have continued to expand our joint efforts in the areas of higher education, primary and secondary education, cultural heritage, and youth and sports initiatives.
This latest meeting of the JCC for Cultural and Educational Cooperation, hosted at the U.S. Department of State, was co-chaired by Iraqi Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ali al-Adeeb and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock. The meeting of the JCC builds on efforts to strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq through academic and cultural exchanges and shared efforts to preserve the unique archeological heritage of Iraq.
Citing significant opportunities to send Iraqi students for advanced studies in the United States, the two sides stressed the importance of increased academic linkages and exchanges between the United States and Iraq as a key element in building a strong, productive bilateral relationship. They also reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening ties between the Iraqi and American people through professional, educational and cultural exchanges and dialogue.
The delegations noted with satisfaction that the people-to-people ties between the U.S. and Iraq continue to grow stronger. Fulbright fellowships, the International Visitor Leadership Program, the Iraqi Young Leaders' Exchange Program and other initiatives bring hundreds of Iraqi scholars, students, youth and professionals to the U.S. each year. Seven university linkages have been finalized and are actively promoting academic collaboration. Opportunities to learn English in Iraq are increasing, with the establishment of an Iraqi chapter of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in November 2011. Vital work to preserve the ancient site of Babylon continues through a major U.S. grant to the World Monuments Fund as well as support to education programs at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage, and bring a group of Iraqi graduate students to Washington, DC in the summer of 2012.
The U.S. side agreed to augment its student advising activities, including through EducationUSA college fairs modeled on the one held in Erbil in October 2011. These fairs support the Iraqi Government's goal of having at least 25 percent of the Iraqis studying abroad enroll in U.S. colleges and universities.
The delegations stressed the importance of ongoing consultation and information exchange at all levels, and pledged to reconvene the JCC again this year to assess progress on its shared priorities.
While some Iraqi students come to the US to learn, Abigail R. Esman (Forbes) observes that there is much Americans can learn from Iraqi artists:
My own first encounter with Iraqi art was five years ago, at the opening of an experimental exhibition in The Hague. I was, from the moment I arrived until the museum lights went dark, mesmerized, at once shaken and enchanted by the poignancy, the tenderness, the anger, the poetry, the melancholic dreams of these Iraqi visions: burned pages out of books from a bombed-out library in Baghdad; videos of children repeating words of hatred and of war; the remains of a car that had been blown up.
All of these reactions swept over me, too, the first time I saw the works of Ayad Alkadhi, an Iraqi artist now living in New York, whose first solo show runs through this week at Leila Heller Gallery's downtown (Chelsea) location. 
I have known Ayad a while, and written of him before.  His eloquence stretches beyond his canvases and his words into the very process of his toughts and understanding of the world in which he has made his place -- an Iraqi having escaped a war, a man who has spent his adult life in a culture far from the one to which he was born and raised: first in New Zealand and now in the USA.  And from that process, too, he forms his paintings.
From the artistic response to war and destruction to the financial destruction the war has imposed upon the US, Bob Geary (Indy Week) reports:
War. Wars. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The drumbeat for war in Iran.
"There is a tsunami coming to the United States," says Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., consisting of the trillions of dollars of debt and veterans' health care obligations for wars we cannot win and a military machine we cannot afford.
So Jones, no liberal and a lonely voice in the Republican Party (with his favored presidential candidate, Ron Paul), asks one simple question of Americans: "Where is the outrage?"
P. Solomon Banda (AP) reports US Senator Mark Udall declared ahead of a national security forum in Denver today that one of the biggest national security threats the US faces is the national debt -- to which the Iraq War has contributed so much. Brian Anderson (Digital Journal) adds, "Unless I'm living in some kind of community that is freakishly ignorant of these wars -- as an undergraduate surrounded by drunken fools, it is a real possibility -- there exists an eerie apathy that falls beautifully in line with Obama's coveted 'doctrine of silence.' I hope to remind all of these numerous wars we're in, lest we forget they're on our dollar, but, for now, we'll concentrate on Iraq and Afghanistan."  Anderson observes of Iraq:
Two years later we saw no change from the neoconservatives' blueprint. Misleading notifications on the morning of August 19th, 2010 shouted that Operation Iraqi Freedom had ended and that combat soldiers were finally leaving Baghdad. Many people assumed we were finally leaving Iraq. The truth was that the Obama administration was still keeping around 50,000 troops in the country, and, as usual, it didn't even count government contractors. The Congressional Research Service estimated to have almost 10,000 troops less than that number anyway, so was difficult to imagine Obama keeping his newer promise through a 90% reduction by the end of 2011. But he managed to pull off appealing headlines in time for the up-coming election.
"The Iraq War is Officially Over," announced the newspapers two months ago. Obviously not the first time it 'ended,' individuals were correct to be skeptical. The removal of troops from Iraq had nothing to do with the current president fulfilling a promise to end the occupation; it was a result of a deal cut by the Bush administration. So, in a way, no progress had been made at all since that deal three years ago. In fact, just the opposite had been occurring. Glenn Greenwald explains that the Obama administration had long lobbied to keep several thousand troops in the country, but the Iraqi government rejected demands to provide American soldiers with legal immunity and therefore a continued US presence became a non-option. A non-official presence is another story.
Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for Wired, stated in a recent interview that, in addition to 150-person training office for Iraqi soldiers who will be operating American-made weapon systems, the State Department "is going to leave behind the largest embassy that it has on the planet. All told, there are going to be 18,000 people who work for this embassy." There will be 3,500 to 5,500 armed private security contractors, too; I assume they'll be busy escorting useless diplomats around the country, but violence between Iraqis and Americans will be an inevitable consequence of an occupation gone awry to hell and back. And, more likely than not, the US military's acquisition of biometric data on three million Iraqis will be utilized throughout the next inevitable consequence: Iran swooping into a new anti-American Iraq in order to affect political influence.

Cindy Sheehan is someone who doesn't have the luxury of ignoring the costs of war, her son Casey died serving in Iraq. Meghan Keneally (Daily Mail) notes that since her son died in 2004, she has practiced tax resistance "and now the Internal Revenue Service is suing her for the fnancial records, which is the first step to claiming back taxes" and quotes Cindy stating to Sacremento's Channel 10 News, "I feel like I gave my son to this country in an illegal and immoral war and I'll never get him back. If they can give me my son back then I'll pay my taxes and that's not going to happen."  At her website, Cindy notes she hasn't made her tax resistance a secret but was surprised to learn from Channel 10 News -- and not the US government -- that the IRS has filed against her in federal court:
I consider that my debt to this country was paid in full when my son, Casey, was recklessly with no regard for his safety (remember the rush to war with the "Army you have" which was not properly trained or equipped?) murdered for the lies of a regime whose members (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Yoo, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc.) roam around the world free and unfettered by threatening prosecutions or persecutions after committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace, and high crimes and misdemeanors against our own Constitution.
After the interview with Cornell was over, he said to me, "you appear so calm, most people would be freaking out if the US Attorney filed a lawsuit against them." I replied, "Cornell, what are they going to do to me? Kill another one of my children (god forbid)? I had the worst thing happen to me that could happen to any mother and I am still standing."
Of the lawsuit, she notes, "I would say, 'Bring it on,' but I am not about to quote the barely functioning killer [Bush] that murdered my son and so many more and who is also being protected by the very same agency that is persecuting me -- Obama's DOJ."
Blogger/Blogspot was acting up this morning.  I said in an entry that I'd note Wally and Cedric's joint-posts if they went up.  They did and they are: